Science Lesson | 10 Parks that Changed America Curriculum

Science Lesson

Clean water and water pollution

Fairmount Park (credit Steve Boyle)


In this lesson, students will learn about water pollution.

Time: 1 period


This lesson addresses selected standards from the McRel Science Standards.

  • Standard 6: Understands relationships between organisms and their physical environment.
    Level III (Grades 6 – 8): Knows factors that affect the number and types of organisms an ecosystem can support.
    Level IV (Grades 9 – 12): Knows ways in which humans can alter the equilibrium of ecosystems, causing potentially irreversible effects.
  • Standard 12: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry.
    Level III (Grades 6 – 8): Knows possible outcomes of scientific investigations.
    Level IV (Grades 9 – 12): Evaluates the results of scientific investigations, experiments, observations, theoretical and mathematical models, and explanations proposed by other scientists.


To prepare to teach this lesson, teachers should:

  • Watch the Fairmount Park segment from the PBS special, 10 Parks that Changed America, on DVD or online.
  • Review the lesson plan.
  • Gather materials.
  • Download and print observation worksheets.
  • Tell students before coming to this class that they should save some kind of garbage from lunch or any other part of their day and bring it to class.



  • Plastic basins (one for each group)
  • Water
  • Garbage, e.g., empty drink bottles or cups, lunch detritus, vegetable oil (to represent an oil spill), etc.
  • Tongs (one for each group)
  • Strainers (one for each group)
  • Observation sheets
  • Microscopes (one for each group)
  • Glass slides
  • Eyedropper (one for each group)

Period 1

  1. Watch the segment about Fairmount Park from the PBS Special 10 Parks that Changed America. Ask students why it was important to establish the park on the banks of the Schuylkill River? (To preserve the water and keep it clean.) What are some of the dangers of having a polluted water source? Brainstorm a list. Answers might include: spread of disease, death, negative environmental impacts, negative wildlife impacts, etc.
  2. Tell students that they are going to see how difficult it is to clean up water once it has become polluted.
  3. Break the students up into groups.
  4. Give each group a plastic basin, pitcher of water, tongs, a strainer, an eyedropper, a microscope, and glass slides.
  5. Students work through worksheets/experiment.
  6. Students share observations.
  7. Discuss: Is it easier to clean water that has been polluted or keep the water clean in the first place? Ask students to share their knowledge of water treatment plants. Chemicals are usually employed to filter or clean water. Ask students to consider the limitations of these methods? (Disadvantages associated with certain chemicals, i.e., toxicity, disease.)

Additional Resources


  • Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence: From Ancient Times to the Present by George C. Kohn.
  • Not Enough to Drink: Pollution, Drought, and Tainted Water Supplies by Laura LaBelle
  • The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century by Alex Prud’homme
  • Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park by James D. Ristine
  • Family Life in 17th and 18th Century America by James M. and Dorothy Deneen Volo

Online Sources

For Further Study

This Science lesson can be extended to other subjects or paired with other 10 Parks that Changed America lessons to create the following interdisciplinary connections:

  • Art: Students may design a poster that shows the actions kids can take to help keep drinking water clean and safe.
  • Social Studies: If possible, gather at a local beach, river, or lake to collect and haul away trash.
  • Math: Contact your local governmental agency that regulates water safety. Find out about the statistics regarding the percentage of different particulates that are permitted in the local drinking water. Turn the data into a bar graph, pie chart, or line graph.
  • ELA: Write a science fiction short story about what would have happened to Philadelphia and its residents if Fairmount Park had not been set aside to help keep the Schuylkill River clean.

NOTE: Idea for this lesson plan comes from: